“Watch for the jibe!”, Blake’s yells through the wind. The 26-foot MacGregor heels over on its side, as I lurch forward, spreading my arms out to shelter Henry’s body under mine. I hurriedly press Henry flat against the deck without speaking. I know the potential danger that is coming.
I hear Blake cursing, the wind shaking the main, the screech of the traveller speeding towards us as the boom whips across the boat.
Then the impact.
Blood splatters the pristinely scrubbed, white deck and I instantly know that stitches will be required.
More cursing from Blake as he throws me the first available thing he can get his hands on to apply pressure to my head. The scent of dampness fills my nostrils as I press his bathing suit to my instantly aching head.
I struggle to gather myself. Henry screams, “Mom, you’re the worst Mom! You threw my waterbottle overboard!”. I hear Alice down below the decks yelling to the dog, “Ada!!!! We’re tipping!!!”. I try to call out to her to reasure her, but my voice is lost to the wind. Blood trickles down my face.
Blake scrambles to regain control of the massive boat as the white-capped waves smash against the hull. With more cursing, he leaps onto the deck and drops the jib in hurried, aggressive movements. I’m helpless to do anything but cling to Henry’s body and press my hand against my forehead. I close my eyes.
Then, I hear the motor splutter to life and the boat steadies itself. Blake throws open the hatch and orders me to get below and lie down. I silently oblige, pulling Henry and Alice close to my side. What disaster have we created?
Weeks ago, on a quiet evening after the kids had been tucked into bed, Blake had been onto me about purchasing a large sailboat for our family. “Think of all of the camping trips we could do on a boat like this!”, he had excitedly explained, motioning for me to view his laptop screen filled with photos of majestic sailboats. Having grown up windsurfing and sailing, wind sports continue to be a passion of Blake’s. I was skeptical, but interested. I had taught myself to sail as a kid on a laser during my summers in Muskoka, and in general, I was always on board with any plan that involved an outdoor adventure.
Finally, as a compromise, I agreed to give sailing with our family a trial run with a borrowed sailboat that belonged to a friend. If our one-night trip went well, I would consider funding Blake’s dream acquisition.
Our plan was to launch the boat and sail through Minataki Lake, an expansive 46,500-acre body of water near our home, that boasts over 250 miles of shoreline, fantastic fishing and innumerable islands. Our route would take us to the well-known Ruby Island – a gorgeous islet featuring wind-swept red pines and pristine sandy beaches. The island was also familiar to local families as a much coveted spot for camping. I spent the day before our departure gathering our camping gear and prepping snacks and meals to fuel our mini-adventure. ‘Here we go!’, I thought.
I should have known better. Well, maybe I truly did know better, but chose to ignore those nagging reservations about the success of our proposed 24-hour sailing enterprise. In my mind, I envisioned our family cruising lazily across Minataki’s blue waters with the breeze in our hair, creating lasting memories for all.
I think you can probably guess which direction things went despite my hopeful visions.
After all the gear had been secured below the MacGregor’s decks and the kids had been strapped into their car seats with Ada squeezed between them, we trailered the boat down the highway to Butterfly Lake to launch.
Our first hurdle was mounting the 30-foot mast. With the help of the iPad, the kids stayed in their seats as Blake and I struggled to lift and position the wavering mast. Many curses ensued, but we did it, our marriage barely coming out intact.
Now, sailing with Blake is a somewhat stressful affair at the best of times. In competitive sailing, orders are barked and crew members respond with lightening speed and agility. The problem is that I had zero formal sailing instruction under my belt AND I had two highly energetic, insane toddlers and a dog to keep an eye on.
From the get-go, I could see that there would be no laid-back meandering through the clear waters. The kids were full of beans as usual and spent their time scrambling onto the deck, scampering across to the bow, then back to the deck before slipping down into the cabin, all the while causing me much anxiety over their certain tumbles into the awaiting depths. On top of their continuous circuits of the sailboat, they hurled requests for snacks, water and bathroom breaks at a breakneck speed.
On top of these challenges, Henry and Alice were also desperate to cause me to instantly sprout a head of grey hair by removing their life jackets and hats at continuous five-minute intervals. All attempts to buckle them back into their buoyant straight-jackets were countered with screams of protest. It was like wrestling rabid monkeys. On repeat.
We finally got into a bit of a groove and for a split-second, I remember thinking, ‘Oh yes, I am enjoying myself!’, as Henry and I snuggled together on the bow. Of course, it was as if the weather gods felt my guard fall just slightly. In this moment, we were met with an instant surge of wind. The calm waters immediately opened up into an expanse of whitecaps. At the same time, the main sail filled with a strong gust and the boat heeled over onto its side, sending Henry’s water bottle flying into the waves.
Chaos followed; Henry crying over the aforementioned water bottle, Blake cursing and single-handedly trying to maneuver the 26-foot boat in a ‘man-overboard’ drill to rescue it and the boom/traveller incident leaving me bloodied and dazed.
By the time we finally arrived to Ruby Island, I was anxious for break in our luck. But, alas, after a brief moment of sun, the wind and storms continued and we were pelted with torrential rain. When the clouds finally parted, we got the kids into bed, only to be literally eaten alive by thousands of mosquitos who eagerly penetrated the boats nooks and crannies while we ‘slept’ below decks. The hot, still air of the cabin pressed our hair to the backs of our sweaty necks as I counted down the hours until dawn, continuously swatting at the army of flies chewing Alice to bits.
The moment 6am rolled around, through gritted teeth, I begged Blake to start the engine and get us out of there. There was no ounce of adventurous spirit left in my being. I just wanted to be home.
The most ironic thing, however, was that the kids were having the time of their lives! That morning, Alice had insisted on hanging out at the beach, playing happily with stones and sticks, while Henry spent hours building leaf shelters for his new-found best friend, a beetle he had named ‘Buggie’. When I asked Alice that morning what she loved best about our camping sailboat adventure so far, she didn’t miss a beat: “I love sleeping on the boat!”. I was incredulous. It had been by far one of the worst, bug-infested camping nights I had ever experienced and that is saying a lot after decades of backcountry camping and a season tree-planting in wilds of Northern Ontario.
Thankfully, Blake was on-board with my agenda and after breakfast we didn’t even attempt to raise the sails. Blake kickstarted the motor and we began our journey home. With defeated spirits, we also didn’t even attempt to limit the screen time as we set the kids up down below decks with the iPad to keep them unmoving and consequently, safe.
In the end, we thankfully made it home all in one piece, albeit exhausted and dotted with mosquito bites. Our 24-hour adventure was complete. As the kids slept the entire afternoon away in their comfortable beds, Blake and I then spent hours washing dishes, putting away the food and camping gear, cleaning the blood-splattered deck and wiping down the inside walls of cabin that bore witness to the mosquito carnage of the preceding night.
With the work done, we collapsed on the couch. I looked over to Blake. “Had it been worth it? Am I still being propositioned to purchase a MacGregor of our own?”, I wondered aloud. Sheepishly, Blake conceded that perhaps we had been a bit out of our league. Blake only needed to glance over at my newly self-glued forehead laceration to know that I wholeheartedly agreed!
So here is to disastrous family camping adventures! I’m sure there will be many more stories to come. We seem to be slow learners in this department 🙂